updated 12/12/2006 8:17:18 AM ET 2006-12-12T13:17:18

There are strong scientific reasons for British scientists to continue research using monkeys in "carefully selected research problems," especially when it is the only way to save human lives, a committee of experts said Tuesday.

"There is a strong scientific case for maintaining work on non-human primates for carefully selected research problems ... at least for the foreseeable future," the Weatherall Report said.

Animal testing causes great controversy in Britain and animal rights groups have attacked companies and individuals involved in research on animals. Each year, around 3,300 monkeys are used in scientific or medical research in Britain, about 0.1 percent of all animals used in laboratory experiments in the country.

Three-quarters of animals used in testing are involved in testing the safety of new medicines.

Experiments on great apes, such as chimpanzees and gorillas, are expressly forbidden in Britain, although smaller monkeys may be used.

But critics say even smaller primates are sufficiently sentient to experience great suffering.

The committee, chaired by Oxford geneticist Sir David Weatherall, accepted that there are some cases where the availability of other scientific approaches weakens the argument in favor of using monkeys.

It said it was important only to experiment on the primates in order to answer questions about the immune, nervous and reproductive systems that cannot be answered using rodents and other animals which are too unlike humans.

The committee also said research on monkeys currently provides the only way of ensuring the safety and effectiveness of vaccines for HIV and other infections, and treatments for brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.

Weatherall said there is funding available for only about 10 major HIV, tuberculosis and malaria vaccine trials over the next 10 years. These trials could take five years and involve 10,000 volunteers, he said.

Testing "in a small number of non-human primates can ensure we only proceed into human trials with vaccines that are likely to prevent millions of people dying of these diseases," he added.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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